A New Source of Future CEOs
CEOs traditionally come through very limited channels, either from within the company or from outside:
- Finance: if the company requires cost containment and/or cost cutting,
- Sales/marketing: if the company wants to increase their top line and focus on business development,
- R&D/IT: if the company is highly technologically-driven, or
- Chief operating officer: is the one running the internal side of the business, and so a natural move.
However, there have been exceptions in which the CEO came from a project management background. A good example is Siemens AG, the German conglomerate headquartered in Berlin and Munich, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe. Siemens employs approximately 372,000 people worldwide with global revenue of around €8 billion in 2017.
Before being appointed the CEO in 2005, Klaus-Christian Kleinfeld founded and led Siemens Management Consulting, an internal global partner for Siemens' businesses that played a major role in the restructuring of many of the company's business units around the world. One of the main assets of Klaus Kleinfeld was that he had a broad understanding of the company's multiple divisions. At the same time, he had demonstrated that he could make things happen and create immense business value through good project management practices.
Another interesting case is the present President of Argentina, Manuel Macri. Macri is an engineer by education, with a long and successful career in project management. He is turning his country into a new world economic power.
In a VUCA world, project managers are some of the best candidates to be CEOs. They are results-driven and are the CEOs of their projects. They have to bring together all the disparate aspects of theory, reality, vision, multiple business strategies, operational challenges, decision-making, finances, value, politics, and human nature to create successful outcomes. Being popular and charismatic helps substantially as emotional intelligence facilitates leadership.
Project managers often lead transformation initiatives that go across the entire organization. They get to see and interact with the entire company as a whole entity rather than from the "soloed" view of a particular unit, department, or function. A prerequisite, nevertheless, is that at some point in their careers they need to assume P&L responsibility and lead the business successfully for a certain period of time. I strongly believe that if project managers progress towards assuming responsibilities beyond the typical project management field, they will become a new source of future leaders.
What is clear by now is that if CEOs want to succeed in the new "project economy", they will urgently need to acquire project leadership and execution competencies. I am afraid that if they do not take action now, they will probably find themselves out of business very soon.